Thursday, January 31, 2013

Comfort Is Design Too! - Wearing my Levi's 550 Jeans

The other day, a faded but beloved old pair of denim jeans started to tear around the knee. Growing up with a mother who felt that wearing jeans was low class, I never owned a pair of jeans until I went away to college. Of course, at Oklahoma State University, everyone wore jeans except the frat's who wore chinos. However, when there was a more "formal" event such as church, school events, dinners at a friends family and often class, we dressed up! When we were protesting the Viet Nam war in 1966, we wore our Gant shirts, ties and Glen Plaid sport coats over dress slacks. It was really a unique place and SO different from the less formal Oregon.

Looking at those jeans I realized that they had frayed on the sides, the bottoms and generally looked pretty worn. I decided I was not a homeless man, they had to go. A friend told me, "Don't get rid of them, they're just getting good! Put them on eBay and start the bidding at $25. Of course you will only be able to offer them in one size," he continued. We both got a big laugh out of that!

He was right in one sense. I am shocked to see people buying new already worn out pants, usually jeans, for outrageous prices. Three hundred dollars for pants that look like they've already been rode hard and hung up wet? That is what, shabby chic? For a price? We have gotten too lazy to wait?

Digging around the closet looking for another pair of jeans to replace my favorite, I found a forgotten pair of Levi's 550 jeans. I can remember when they first came out; they were a looser fit that was just right for my then middle aged body. You know, looser in the butt, thighs and calves. When I put them on, they still fit perfectly and felt just like an old friend! It was then that I considered clothing and all that goes into the design of it.

If you have never sewn, and it still remains a mystery to me even though my mother, wife and daughter loved to sew, is how all those flimsy paper pieces go together. If ever there was a designer who should be applauded, it's the person who can take a beautiful dress or sleek coat and make a pattern of it so that you can make it too! The fact that they can actually make it fit is a wonder.

I can remember cutting fabric and then upholstering furniture but generally that is pretty much a straight shot compared to clothes. Someone has to design, then make a pattern and then cut tens of thousands of matching items that are supposed to fit you.

Good clothing, clothing that fits and makes you want to wear it has all the same attributes as art. While it isn't an artwork, books, or music, it makes us a walking, moving sculpture! Simply, by our choice of clothing and accessories, removable or not, we have designed a piece of art. If you don't believe me, consider all the comment generated at the various award ceremonies of late and how many tongues wag at who wore what dress. It seems pointless but legions of fans wait breathlessly every season!

As I've said many times, good art, like good design make our lives simpler, easier but most of all gives us the sparkle that makes us all unique. Maybe that's why tattoos are so in?

Visit for new items and now photography!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Blank Slate

I am a cheapskate. I am always checking out the sales and bargains at the local hobby stores for the crafts and birdhouses I paint. Here in Southern California that generally means Michael's as most of the small independents are gone now and while we have JoAnn's Fabrics they really don't have their heart in crafting.

Digging through my stash of all those "sale" items, I decided that I better get going if I wanted to do some Easter or spring items and amazingly got two tulip shaped shelves pretty much done in an evening. I had looked at them though a day or two before trying to decide what I should do. While this is the back, you have a pretty good idea that while they had a cutout of tulips, they were indeed "a blank slate." They offered a wide range of possibilities.

When an artist creates something, it really is a form of design, a way of seeing something in the void that no one else sees. Those of you reading this that are artists know exactly what I mean. For others, it is simply a blank slate, be it a blank decoration, a canvas, pieces that will create a quilt, notes on a page, no words on the screen of a computer. There is nothing there. It can be intimidating. Read the biography's of many great artists of all media, they knew it could be too. Talk to any artist; they will admit to those "empty" times.

Never let it said that I am afraid of color. Actually I was at the start. It was easy to let things be a palette of darks or of lights, but to use bright and brilliant colors? Not often. As you can see here, those timid days are gone now.

As I noted in earlier blogs, the world is awash in color. I applaud our neighbors south of the border for their un-fearing use of color. In fact, I look carefully at the Mexican crafts for sale on Oliveira Street, the original center of Los Angeles whenever we go there. Here colors us Northerners would never put together seem to coexist with a wild abandon.

It wasn't always that way. I remember visiting what is now the Getty Villa the week it opened in 1976. The critics were harsh and unrelenting with it and it's adornment. Ancient Roman and Greek villas and monumental buildings were supposed to be a severe white or at the worst the color of the stone or muted stucco that was used in its construction. Of course those who knew better finally came to the museums defense and stated that the Romans were anything but cold and severe in their use of color. EVERYTHING was painted. After 2,000 years it had all faded away. (If you want to see original colors, go to Egypt! Their colors are often 4-5,000 years old but they weren't timid either)! The original villa was buried in lava in 79 A.D. but the parts that can be seen are colorful, probably far beyond what we would consider acceptable today.

As I am discovering with my second cactus painting, there is color in the simplest and most boring of objects. Often we just don't see it. This shelf was a wonderful experiment with color. Its sister is a bit different and looks a slightly different as well. Check them out on my Etsy store ( and see what you think. In any event, smaller items like this are wonderful additions to home decor. Not too big to overpower, they give a splash of color and can often make us smile because even on a gloomy day, they are sunny.

Don't be afraid to use color. You do at Christmas so who said you can't the rest of the year as well?


Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning To Teach An Art Class For Las Vegas

Last Saturday, I taught my first art class. Well, I should rephrase that. I taught my first art class to an adult. As a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher nearly 50 years ago I taught my students art, something they had never had before.

As I mentioned in another blog, a close friend asked if I wanted to teach him, a person who had never painted before,  to get some experience, see where things might go wrong before I had to perform in front of my two classes. I already know my classes will be small. Since I don't want to spent a whole lot on fancy tech stuff like video cameras that project the painting,  I jumped at the chance. I'm a "hands on" kinda guy. I plan to hover and suggest or answer questions as needed as we paint together.

Getting ready was far more work than I realized. I had to make tracing paper outlines of the two paintings. Then, I realized I had to make a printed copy to then trace onto the canvas with carbon paper. Well, if you're going to make one, you might as well make them all. So, the tracing went well, then I hopped over to Office Depot who carefully framed the tracings for me on a standard letter sheet (after all the paintings are only 9" x 12") so it fit nicely.

Then I had to get the brushes we would need since I was going to paint a new painting as well. Next came the paints, paper towels, the acrylic black for the background and the tub to wash the brushes out. Goodness! That was just the prep! When he showed up Saturday I then had to put daubs of each oil color of paint on a plate, get the turpenoid out and we got to work.

Even starting with outlining the tracing and blocking the rest of the canvas with black acrylic paint it only took us no more than 25 minutes. There was a moment of polite laughter after I spotted him holding and using the brush as if he was doing Chinese calligraphy, a technique he had learned as a student. Once he got used to the way I outlined, he became as fast as me. The beauty of acrylic is that it dries so fast. By the time we were done we could start painting the oils.

I am a minimalist and think my students could have a hard time "mixing" colors. There are only five oil colors. All others are mixes of those five. One reason is that its easier to do and by restricting colors it keeps the painting in the same color palette. Darker green needed? Mix green and a dash of red or magenta. Pale pink? Magenta and white. We put down the colors fairly solidly leaving spaces for the places the colors would be lighter. Oils more or less demands that you go from dark to light. I didn't vary that at all. Adding the next color, say a lighter green or magenta and blending it with the color already there was easy. There really is no right or wrong with painting. Florals are even more forgiving because while recognizable, each individual flower is just enough different.

And that is what we discovered. My second painting is different than the original. I just couldn't get the same tint here or color there. My student was maybe getting a spot darker or lighter in another place. Yet, when we lined them after after about 2 1/2 hours, there was no denying we had painted two lilies. They were close enough so that if you didn't see the original you would never know.

He congratulated me on my method of teaching but noted that before anyone does anything I should go over all the steps. There will be a painting there for them to see and most likely I will paint yet another one as well. Between the oral instructions and the written instructions he felt that I would have a successful class. I guess we will find out soon enough! I can't thank him enough!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting Ready For The Las Vegas Painting Convention

A close friend volunteered to be a guinea pig when he realized I had never taught a painting class before.  He is willing to have me teach him how to paint a painting, one of the two I will be teaching at the Las Vegas Painting Convention. My class,  #509 held in the conference center of the Tropicana Center on Tuesday, Feb. 26th will be my first. He pointed out that he has NEVER painted before so whatever problems I encounter with him ought to serve me well in Vegas. We shall see. I wonder if you CAN teach someone to paint in a style that is pretty shaky. It is a lovely painting but can someone else paint it too? I do know that in recording the work on my current painting, a study of a cactus plant with a single flower, it IS incredibly hard to just paint a subject let alone teach someone else to paint what you are struggling with. Each artist has their own style.

Dragging my feet getting ready, his offer forced me to get my act together and man, is it a lot of work! First off I realized that I didn't have very good notes on how I painted the painting. In fact if anything they are non-existent. What was I thinking of? Luckily I had taken a few photos with my old iPhone 3s but other than that and the original in my hot little hands, I didn't have much else. Today I made a copy of the outlines using tracing paper on the original and went over to Office Depot to have them copy those for the kits I will have to provide everyone in my class. I too will use these templates to put the outlines on our canvases for our own painting session.

The instructions are a work in progress. Seriously. I really have no idea on how to proceed other than the old dictum of dark to light, the mantra of oils. I didn't record the paints I used though I have a good idea of what they were. And the brushes. Well, I did use much the same type of brush in my other painting, an acrylic painting of a Bird of Paradise so that should be easy, or not. Tomorrow will be the proof of the pudding. I like filberts so that part should be easy. Use #2, #4, and whatever else is bigger.

We agreed to block out four hours, the same amount of time I will have in Las Vegas. If we can't get it done in that time, I will have to re-think the steps. However, I feel that once the outline is on the canvas, it shouldn't take more than 30 minutes to paint the black background. Since it is acrylic it will dry fast. Then we start with the oils. There is a VERY limited palate so other than blending, not an easy thing for crafters (why use one or two paints when you can use 10?), I really think that we should be done in much less time. But, we may not. Tomorrow we will find out.

Wish us luck!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Learning From Past Experience - Part 3

Here is the third stage of my Cactus Flower painting. I have to admit, when I started it after creating what I thought was a successful first attempt painting a cactus with three flowers from a chaotic start, I never dreamed that the second version would be so much harder than the first.

I am seven hours into this project and while the painting is only 12" x 16" it has proven to be anything but easy. I understand what Vermeer went through though I am NOT comparing myself to Vermeer but understand the problems he might have had in creating his small masterpieces. He had to carefully observe his surroundings.

While I did leave spaces between the parts of a cactus flute, what I noticed this time, and not the last, was how much color there was. On the surface a cactus flute is green. And it is. Yet, it is often so many shades of green. It's yellow green in it youth, then darkens to a medium green and often a teal in the shadows. The depths are nearly black green with silver greens and pinks on the edges. Check it out.

Then there are the nasty spines. Each group grows out of an edge that suddenly is another color, often pinkish. It creates quite a contrast on younger flutes but blends easily with the edges of older aging flutes. As you can see here, the flutes are now all painted, depending on age, edges are aged or left yellow green with the areoles another color ready for their spines. What has been successful has been the creating of the flutes. Now, to see if the flower makes or breaks the painting.

Check out earlier blogs to see the stages of this painting.

Don't forget to check out my store. It's at:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Finding The "Sparkle" In Painting

To paint on a regular basis, has been a journey for me. Starting with oils and then moving back to acrylics I find that each has its pluses and minuses. As the paintings mount up, I find that I usually give them away as gifts as the sales so far have been few and far between. Yet, when I take the time to look at the earliest to the newest items I see growth, a kind of depth that I didn't have at the start. This is what every artist hopes for; growth!

However, while every artist hopes to get better at painting what they see or imagine, every artist of any kind, here we'll discuss painting, hopes to find his or her "voice." Or as a friend has recently put it, their "sparkle."

After a discussion about that word and what it represents in an artists art, I find that it is not easy to identify. He has defined it as allowing your own personality to shine through. I have begun to question that very statement. What is your personality and how can you express it in your art? What gives one artist's art something that arrests the eye while another artist, whose renderings are just as well done, are something that you would pass by murmuring nice but never giving them a second glance. Sparkle, just like the word quality, it is very hard to define but oddly enough, it appears that just about everyone knows what it is.

Reading the letters of Van Gogh you see a kind of innocence, a way of looking at the world that is different than what he fellow artists looked for and saw. He wrote, often in detail about his struggles getting something just right. As his art became more open, with color and light, you saw his art emerge into something very different than his earlier paintings such as the dark and crude "The Potato Eaters."

Here is a painting that was started months ago and then left because I just didn't seem to be able to finish it. Looking it over last night, I decided that it could be finished but that the direction of my art had changed since this was started. In fact, it is very different than the cactus I am currently working on. It has both elements, the older more detailed painting and the newer, looser underpainting with contrasting lines defining the subject, a single waterlily. More a sketch than a painting, it does glow more than other things I've done and possibly is the start of my journey to find that sparkle, that voice!

Be sure to check out


Friday, January 18, 2013

Learning From Past Experience - Part 2

In a this painting series, I am continuing to document a painting that is my second take on a cactus painting. In the original I had a mess of black and pink paint that almost had me losing track of what I was trying to do. In this second attempt, I charted a new course of painting and so far, it seems to be somewhat more successful. But no less complicated.

The surprise has been how much time this supposedly simpler version is taking. Yet, it is coming together too. Cactus are a lot more work than most people realize and of course, I had to pick the most difficult collection of cactus flutes that rise all over the place. There are many more colors in cactus. They are not just green but so many subtle other colors. Yet, I think my idea was correct. I am not having trouble finding my way, it is just that there is so much more with each cactus.

Here is a middle stage of the painting. Be sure to check the my January 11th posting of the original steps of the painting. This is how I do it. I would enjoy hearing from other artists and seeing what they do. One is never too old NOT to learn new tricks.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Color vs. Design

When you are working on a craft project, after the design is decided upon, and that may or may not be an easy task, you have to decide on your colors. Now, I love color don't get me wrong, but I also have a tendency to pick colors that may be just a bit too bright, or colors that are known to get the point. It is fun though and often you are surprised at what turns out.

It is the constant playing with colors (and sometimes correcting one that was a poor choice) that gives you a better "eye" on what you like. Of course, what you like may not be what your customer likes.
Here a cobalt blue birdhouse is covered with a red red roof. Aided by yellows, yellow greens and a splash of white, you have a pretty wild item. It certainly would add color just about anywhere you put it. Luckily its not very big so as they say, a little color (on a 5 inch birdhouse) goes a long way.

However, not everyone likes this much color. Americans tend to downplay color not like their European cousins. If you don't believe me, those in range of an IKEA store need to take a look. Those Swedes are not afraid of color, ever!

A case in point is the two sales of items in my "crazy quilt" designs this past Christmas. The first few items started off pretty wild. Then after I got no nibbles (even after winning a national contest), I decided that the notepad holder that I had, poorly finished with a walnut stain, might be more acceptable if the colors were less exuberant. So every color was muted. Beige, creams, soft pinks and blues, celedon greens adorned this item. I must admit it looked nice, just like an old and faded quilt. Check out the Dec. 15, 2012 blog to see the comparison.

That both the original crazy quilt birdhouse and the notepad holder sold left me wondering. Was it the color that sold them or the design? Maybe both or because in some way they sold because the buyer just happened to like them and had no ulterior motive. As an artist you are always left to wonder. You wonder, at least in my case, what did they see that made them buy and can you replicate that buyer's motivation?

Ultimately I think that you must be true to yourself and let the marketplace decide.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Everything Is Designed - Even Nixon's Library

Recently we went to the Nixon Library, in fact the day after his 100th birthday anniversary. I figured the crowds would be gone and the place spic and span for the celebration. How right I was. There were a few hardy souls but basically the place was deserted. I had never been there and other than the Clinton Library in Little Rock, AR, had seen few presidential libraries.

However, after seeing such libraries as the Huntington, portions of the Getty museums, several in New York City, even the downtown Los Angeles Public Library, I feel that I know what a good library should be. As nice and big as Nixon's library is, and it is big, I left feeling that this was Nixon light. All of the parts of his life were there, in fact some of the videos were fascinating and brought back memories of my youth, but as they say, "where's the beef?" 

I remember watching the "Checkers" speech though I didn't fully understand it at the time. I remember the presidential debates with Kennedy and the further debates at home between my parents. Still living in Oregon, I missed the abortive run for governor and the comments that followed.

However, I do remember the election of 1968 as I was in the jungles of Africa and we listened first to the demonstrations in Chicago and then the debates at weird times on Voice of America. Just as well, the signal was better at night on my shortwave radio.

Who can forget the storm over "The Pentagon Papers" and the shock and dismay many of us felt over what it revealed. If there ever was an unholy design, the war in Viet Nam qualifies. If you don't think a war is designed, take an ROTC course or read Clausewitz. The Viet Nam war WAS designed.

The best part of the library (other than the fascinating photos and bio of his family) was the section on Watergate. There in unflinching detail was the timeline, the interviews, the articles and what everyone else said as well, shown in all its detail. It was sad. Nixon may have had many flaws, what great person doesn't (read the Bible and study Moses closely) but he deserves better than this.

After nearly an hour spent in just the Watergate section, listening to what everyone said, reading what they wrote, you felt that this what was missing everywhere else. Even the trip to China was very peripheral. We forget what a breakthrough this was. Here, Richard Nixon the red baiter and hater flew to China, one of the most vilified places on earth and talked face to face with Mao and both agreed to disagree. He opened the door to the most populous and soon to be the wealthiest country on the planet. How can it not be? It has five times the population of the United States and a people who have always been as creative and inventive as any in history. Nixon was wise and he deserves more credit for it.

Also missing were the people that made his a success. Kissinger is given a mere handshake, Eisenhower is seen and remembered as a shadow. His talks with the Russians are barely mentioned other than a rather tacky creation of onion shaped domes in one of the rooms. 

You feel in some ways cheated. In trying to sanitize the man, you make him a cartoon. I couldn't help but think, just consider what the curators at say the Huntington could do here. After all, its all just a matter of design.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Learning From Past Experience

While looking for photos that I thought might sell on my Etsy store ( I was also paying attention to the next photo idea to paint. There were several cactus shots that I used to paint my "Flowering Cactus" painting. I had forgotten! The original is one of my favorites and the closest I have come to reaching the style that I am aiming for. The irony was that I achieved it using acrylics, not oils.

I stumbled again on those photos taken with my brand new iPhone 5 and realized that I wasn't done with that series. I am slowly beginning to understand why painters revisit the same scene several times, from different angles or perspective. There is something more there that they want to master. I felt the same thing.

A friend urged me to concentrate on a type of painting...still life, florals, whatever I wanted, but to work on it until I had mastered it. I love to flit around and it shows. So I picked the  cactus again.

I remembered the mess I had the first time around and am amazed every time I see that painting (it is now the screensaver on my iPhone and iPad and hangs on a green wall in my bathroom) that I was able to create order out of the real chaos I had created. It was a black and pink blob. From the looks of the other painters I could tell they too felt there was no hope.

Its not often you get to see how an artist works so here is what I do and how I do it. I know this goes against the grain of many artists, but I can do what I want and it works for me.

Taking the photo I first drew in pencil an oval for the flower trying to put it where I wanted it in the painting. After several tries I got it placed. They I drew the cactus that surrounded it and added or subtracted what I thought would muddle up the painting. There are some amazing greens and pinks here and I wanted to be sure those areas would be included. Then came the petals so I would know where the whole picture came together.

Once the sketch was done, I then started painting in the black that would be the deepest color in the background. Only this time, I left a small unpainted space between the sections so that I knew where things were. Then I added a mauve color that would give me the missing separation of before, but would also be there when the various greens were added. Many of the ends of each section have pink edges, yes, pink! so I decided it would be easier to just add pink to fill all the gaps between each edge and then worry about that when I started putting in the green. As I learned before it all works out and this time I may save a lot of heartache trying to figure out where things are. At least now I can see all of the flutes of cactus and worry about the colors next.

I left it yesterday with about half of the pink edges filled in. In case your wondering, like last time, I will work with the flower last. I used a light green to fill it in then built it up with layers of white, a layer of two with some very pale green then back to white again. The beauty of acrylic is that those layers can be put on in minutes NOT days as it would take with oils. Blending can be a challenge but dry brushing those pesky blends works just about every time. Screw up? It'll be dry in a few minutes and you're good to try it again.

For those of you curious enough, go to my Oct. 20, 2012 post to see the original FLOWERING CACTUS painting. You will see that it turned out pretty good. Here the emphasis will be on the many flutes of cactus with far more greens and only one flower. It still should be stunning when finished.

As for the photos I've added, check out my Etsy store at Then click the Photography category. You never know!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nothing New Under The Sun

I believe it is in the book of Ecclesiastes where it is observed "there is nothing new under the sun." Now I am sure there are people who might argue that bromide but in the movie industry at least it IS an axion.

Quite by accident yesterday I ended up renting "Promethus" from my local Red Box. I wanted "Looper," took what came out and never actually looked at the DVD. Yesterday evening I sat down with my wife and said that I rented "Looper" and that would be fun to see how the future man kills himself in the present. Within a few minutes after the movie started, and in fact it didn't start very easily on my Blue-Ray DVD player, I realized that hey, this WASN'T "Looper." My wife said to call Red Box and explain what happened. I did and they guy on the phone said, "Well, it does say "Promethus" on the DVD and so I ejected it and sure enough it did. I replied it did but that wasn't what I wanted. He promised me a credit (that as of this minute, now a day away I have not received an email for) and said to return it by 9 pm Wednesday.

When I went to the Red Box this morning, I checked out how I could have made this mistake. It did read the movie that I had but in checking the listing in the machine, "Promethus" was nowhere to be found. "Looper" was there all right in both DVD and Blue-Ray.

Since we had the darn thing we decided to watch it. Which leads to the comment there about design and there seems to be nothing new under the movie creation sun.

Ridley Scott is a favorite director and his much earlier movie "Blade Runner" is a classic of the sci-fi genre. It seems that not only was he content to revisit this movie but a host of others as well starting with "Forbidden Planet" with it all knowing Robot, Robbie, then a huge debt to Kubrick's stunning and forever movie changing film "2001, A Space Odyssey," on to his own movie dealing with replicants, "Alien" with monsters popping out of bellies and nearly indestructible, and finally this smartly created and infinitely derivative film about who created us, yes these aliens, but why were they trying to destroy us? After all the blood and mayhem, did we care?

Why indeed. How did all this money and you can bet a lot get spent on what was at best a "C" grade movie ever make it past the secretary's desk? I thought scripts like these were what was shown in "Argo," they went somewhere to die.

A movie, or ANY creative event has basically the same basic design. You have a blank canvas, page, music sheet that has to be filled in in some way. Words, notes, paint. For some, painters maybe more than the others, are given a freedom to create what they want on a canvas. Some may make small thumbnails, smaller versions of their work while others just paint away. Writers and screenwriters initially have a lot of freedom until they hit the editor, movie producer, etc. What comes out of those meetings oftentimes little resembles what went in. Who hasn't heard of how the script of "Casablanca" or the original "Moby Dick" was rewritten each night before shooting not once but frequently every night. Somehow it works. Usually, though it doesn't.

I pilloried myself in an earlier column and even showed how a still life I wanted to paint went so very wrong. I stopped and started again. The result was so different it would be hard to believe the same painter did both paintings.

Most of what we do each and every day has design to it. If you don't think so, stop and consider what you do. There is a design to just about every part of our lives. How we deal with it, is what makes us all unique and often quite different. However, not so different that we can't find some mention of it in a book as old as the Bible. So I guess there really isn't anything new under the sun!

Check out the increasing number of photos at my Etsy store:


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Is Photography Considered True Art?

After a year on Etsy, I began to realize that many of the sellers were photographers. Some have exquisite photos while others were definitely more avant garde. I noticed that since the advent of Instagram the trend is to make your photos look like an old Polaroid Color print.

I remember the excitement of my first roll of color film for my "state-of-the-art" Polaroid J-66. I got it for Christmas my senior year of high school. At first, all we had was black and white, Type 47. Then the following summer Type 48, full color arrived. It was color, sort of. It was faded even at the time of development. However, it did have a charm and look many still prefer today.

Photography wasn't a new thing for me. I have a photo of me with my first camera given to me when I was 5. It was an old box type Agfa camera that my father brought back from his stint in Germany after the war. There was a progression of cameras over the years. Then in high school I took photography class and learned not only to take better photos but to develop the negatives as well. Then when I was a senior and yearbook editor in high school, I ended up taking and printing a good third of the photos that were not class portraits. And, I did a pretty well too.

I took more classes in college and when I went to Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, I went armed with one of the first full frame Olympus 35 mm cameras. I took quite a few photos with that and still am amazed at the quality of the lens. I regret selling it.

During the summer break, a whole bunch of us chartered a jet and flew to Ethiopia. After spending a week there, on the way to Kenya we were able to shop in the duty free shop. In 1969 both Pentax and Minolta came out with popular SLR cameras that were cheap, or cheap enough with high quality mechanics. After carefully inspecting them I chose the Minolta SRT-101. The biggest reason was that when you stopped it down, the viewfinder didn't darken like it did on the Pentax. Focusing was much easier to do.

I took lots of photos yet in hindsight wished I had taken more. They have remained in their storage boxes all these years and finally in retirement I am beginning to sift through them.

Over the years I've been all around the world, literally. My wife and I returned to Europe after we married (I took a months journey there coming home from my two years in the Peace Corps) visiting Denmark and Germany. There was a trip to Peru and Brazil when my wife was pregnant with our son, then Europe to meet my wife's AFS mother in Germany and to meet the family of the boy we were going to host in his AFS year in our home from Austria. We went to Japan for Christmas when my son was spending a year as an exchange student in Italy. In 2007 after an illness we still spent a month in Europe flying to Copenhagen, then driving to Berlin, Prague, Salzburg, Rotenburg, Faaborg and up to Skagen both in Denmark. The camera clicked constantly!

The one Trip I always wanted to take was the one we took in 2009 to Egypt and Jordan. Considering the events that started soon after we got home, we were SO glad we had gone. Egypt was a dream since grade school and it was everything I thought it would be. The one shock was that my Nikon D-40x literally stopped working as we started the tour standing in front of the gates at Luxor. Later I found out, I could have manually used the camera to focus as the focusing motor had died. Instead I used my trusty Canon PowerShot SD770IS, a tiny, smaller than a deck of cards 10 megapixel camera. I took 2400 shots with that camera. My wife was happy with that arrangement. I kept the strap on, and one hand holding the camera or putting it in my pocket. I could take photos on the run without the Nikon banging against me all day.

When I sat down to go through them at home I was stunned at the quality. I published a book of the trip and no one can believe that tiny camera took those gorgeous photos.

However, this brings us to our question, does a photo constitute art? If you look at the photo of the two sisters above, is it art? Artistic? Great art? For some reason, many consider a painting or drawing to be many levels above a photograph. Yet the look captured here, the smaller sister peaking over the shoulder, the colorful garb are every bit as arresting as the finest portrait. Heck, this IS a portrait.

Whenever I see a "realistic" painting, I always wonder, why? You are literally copying literally something that already exists. The "camera" view. The great masters of the past, often created this type of painting when there were no cameras. There WERE camera obscuras that projected an exact view of what the artist could see. That made it much easier to paint an object exactly as it was seen. So, even in the 1600's artists had "aids."

There are many iconic photos. Ansel Adams "Moonrise Over Hernandez, NM," Dorothea Lange's photos of the Depression, Brady's images of the Civil War. These and many others all mimic some of the greatest paintings ever made. In my opinion a photograph can be great art and I know there are many out there that agree as well.

In making the decision to put photos in my store, I find that making the decision of what to put there is almost an overwhelming task. I am gingerly looking at them and trying to decide what people might want and if they will buy. So far, only two photos have made it. It is a long process yet one that brings back so many memories. My advice to those camera bugs out there, keep those cameras snapping. You just never know!

Be sure to check them out on my store:


Monday, January 7, 2013

American Craft Magazine

One of the fun things about crafting, the arts and all that, is that you become more aware of what other people are doing. If you are like me, you are always looking for something new, maybe a new twist on what you have been doing. Many times, we look back at a body of our work and realize that we are stuck in a rut. Maybe that's just me.

Anyone who has looked at my store on Etsy can clearly see that I have styles all over the place. Maybe I am just more influenced by others and think, "Hey, I can do that but not quite the same way." That is what inspiried my crazy quilt series. I had seen crazy quilts and quilts in general for years! My wife makes lovely quilts. One day, faced with a blank birdhouse and tired of my Pennsylvania Dutch designs thought, hey why not? The crazy part wasn't the quilt idea but putting it on a three dimensional surface. I had paint everywhere as I would forget as I added the background colors and later the designs (you see each base color had its own pattern on top just like real fabric) I would go around the thing and realize when I was done with that design I had smeared the paint on another side, and often all over me as well. I had to do one, maybe two sides and then put it down to dry. (Our old Wedgewood stove oven was often used to good purpose because it has a pilot light and is just the right temperature).

I think the idea was a success and I have used it on other birdhouses, a few trays, even an old notepad holder that was recycled, repainted AND sold on Etsy.

This leads me to the purpose here today. I know that we all get in a rut at times. And inspiration seems to allude us no matter what we see all around us. I stumbled on "American Craft" magazine at the bookstore (you know those places where there are real books you can touch and feel - not like an online store?) and one of the many cards in it fell out on the floor. I bought the magazine and was impressed not only with the presentation (design IS after all important to me) but the variety of things it covered. If there is ever any doubt about how important design could be, check out this magazine. It is full of amazing creations by amazing people. It will inspire you. It sure has me.

Be sure to check out my store on Etsy. I have started to add photographs that I have taken over the years. I've been to South America, Europe, Africa, Japan and many places in the US. You will find my store at:


Friday, January 4, 2013

Design or The Design of a Bill of Goods?

We returned from a trip to visit out daughter yesterday. One of the first things we noticed was that the lights in the main kitchen ceiling fixture didn't work. Now in the back of my mind, I remembered putting in two CFL bulbs to replace the 75 watt bulbs that were put in when the kitchen was remodeled in 2008. They wore out about two years later, sometime in 2010 and I felt that I was doing a good deed being "green" by using less power AND saving money. We have been told over the past few years that while the bulbs were more costly they used less energy and would last for years...I've heard figures of up to 15 years. When I changed them this morning, sure enough the two CFL's had burned out. I replaced them with two GE Reveal 75 watt bulbs. They work just fine, thank you very much.

This isn't the first time the CFL bulbs have failed to live up to their billing. I use them in my office and especially when I was running my own graphics design business they would be on for many hours a day. Sadly, in comparing one regular bulb and the CFL bulb I discovered that they burned out at about the same time. The incandescent cost what a buck or two at most? The CFL anywhere up to about $10. Not, as they say in the business world, much of a ROI (return on investment).

In the infinite wisdom of our government, we have been told that CFL's are the way to go so 100 watt and now 75 watt incandescent bulbs will no longer be available. The drive to get us to use CFL or anything but incandescent bulbs in the name of saving energy is on. But is it? It seems to me that its in the interest of the manufacturers who sell them for a whole lot more than they ever got for the lowly Edison type bulb, NOT the American people.

At an MacWorld conference a few years ago I took a seminar on responsible design. It sounded interesting and clients are always looking for a way to save money, and appear green to their clients.

One of the more surprising questions was after showing us photos of a Prius, a Hummer, a diesel truck and a regular car, the speaker asked us which of these vehicles was the worst ecological design. Of course, MacWorld was in San Francisco so everyones response was the Hummer. It may have been a gas guzzler but ecologically, the worst vehicle was the Prius. I called that out and the room was silent. The speaker looked at me and then finally said, yes, you are right. The batteries are an environmental disaster in the making. Just about every part of a Hummer can be recycled. There was more than a moment of silence.

I have no doubt that the CFL lights that are long tubes are quite efficient and last longer and are brighter than what we can get from incandescents, but the jury, at least in my mind, is still out for the ugly, twisted and curled things we are being forced to use in our lamps. Lamps I might add that often use a bulb that has no equivalent in CFL. Have you ever had the experience when you go to Home Depot or Target to buy a replacement bulb for one of these new lights? The choices are so many and so confusing that you often have to make several trips to find and replace the right bulb.

Ah, for the days when every bulb had the same threaded screw on the bottom. That was the day when design triumphed and it was cheap to buy to boot!

Happy New Year! Be sure to check out my store at!